James Johnson, SF or PF, tweener or mismatch nightmare?

The Bulls have a set guard rotation and no room at center.   They've got Tyrus at PF, but otherwise minutes are likely available to be had there.   The Bulls also have three wings/guards who suffered through various injuries last season (though Salmons played through his), and any time a wing is nicked up there will be plenty of minutes at SF available.
Given that there are potentially minutes available either position, the question remains where will Johnson play and where should he play?

The Bulls hope for versatility with Johnson beating PFs off the dribble while overpowering SFs in the post.   Johnson's shown all the skills to do that at in college.   Now, there's always a chance with any prospect (even the guys picked top five) that they merely stink and can't do anything, but let's assume that talent isn't an overall problem.  We're looking merely at fit.

The range on his jumper combined with his weight and low center of gravity seem to make him a solid PF prospect.   He should set a solid pick and be dangerous hitting the 17 footer or rolling to the basket and play effectively in a pick and roll game.

However, his ball handling won't be maximized at the PF position in the offense we saw last season.   Johnson would excel taking opposing PFs off the dribble from the perimeter, but the Bulls didn't leave the PF in that position frequently.   Maybe Johnson's ability is high enough for Del Negro to add wrinkles that call for the PF to play out on the perimeter more in isolation.

As a SF, Johnson has the ball handling to play the position, and his style fits the offense where he's required to create on his own from the perimeter.   The downside is his shooting range won't space the floor properly for Rose, and his defenders may cheat off him if he's behind the three point line in the base set.  Johnson wasn't a great college three point shooter and that shot becomes the mid range game in the NBA.

The one large disadvantage of the SF/PF tweener is that they typically need to master two entirely separate positions in the offense.   Players are frequently grouped as wings and bigs with the SF/PF tweener needing to understand the ins and outs of both groups.   That creates additional problems whenever there is a coaching change as well.   It may partially explain why Tyrus has often looked lost.  

The movement patterns for a PF and SF are entirely different in the offense while the pattern for a SG/SF or PF/Care virtually interchangable.  Johnson needs to master both patterns to have a successful year because as the eigth man when four are wings and three are bigs, he'll probably split his minutes amonst both groups.  

Unless there is an injury pushing Johhnson into a more defined role, I look for him to struggle quite a bit in his rookie year, especially early, when his minutes and responsibilities shift greatly from day to day.  It's a tough adjustment for everyone, and it's made tougher by his circumstances.


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  • Doug,

    Do you really think there would be a sense that he is a PF if the position wasn't "open" and by open I mean Tyrus? I think the Bulls have done need-based damage to the development of players because of perceived deficiencies in other positions (see Thabo at PG, Kirk at SG). It's hard enough for these kids to learn one position. I say, let JJ play SF...work on his outside shot, and if he can beat out Deng for minutes, so be it.

    I think that the NBA has seen a sea-change in the role of the SF, and that the 3pt shot needs to be a competency of that position, even moreso than ball-handling.

  • James Johnson: Is he a great Tweener?

    If you look up "NBA tweener" on Google, there's a great page of tweeners.

    Perhaps the greatest tweener of memory is the Round Mound of Rebound: Charles Barkley. At 6'5", he lived under the bucket and believed most every rebound was his own.

    When I saw Dwyane Wade play the NCAA tournament at Marquette, I hoped the Bulls would get him. We missed him by 1 pick. Not quite a point guard, a little short for shooting guard, announcers called him a tweener. All I knew was that Wade made people better around him.

    So is JJ a small forward or power forward. I never watched him in college. But summer league made him sound like a rare point forward, making Taj Gibson and others better on offense.

    I can't wait to watch JJ play this year.

    But you're right, a PF/SF tweener like James Johnson will need to learn two positions. Tough for anyone.

    You're right a 2nd time when you say Vinne Del Negro will need to find ways to employ this young man in the Chicago Bulls offense.

    Which brings me to great coaching. Coaching is 1/3 developing player skills, 1/3 developing a cohesive team better than its individual parts, and 1/3 game management.

    Among his other job responsibilities, VDN needs to develop our young players. Can VDN make Derrick, JJ, and Tyrus better?

    Here's hoping James Johnson will be a "nightmare tweener" for the Bulls opponents this season. It should be a fun season.

  • I doubt if James Johnson is quick enough to play the small forward position on offense or defense. Offensively, I think he'll get flatten out on his dribble drives, and end up forcing a lot of jump shots. Defensively, I just don't see him being able to stay in front of even above average small forwards in the league. Johnson is a very skilled basketball player. But at the three, JJ strikes me as a very skilled bad basketball player.

    If JJ is going to be successful in the league, I think he'll have to take a long look at David West from the Hornets. Johnson should be able to get his a lot like West. He can play the mid-range game, the kid should be able to develop a consistent finesse post game, and he'll surely be quick enough to get by most power forwards. I think if JJ conforms to the idea of being a exclusive four... he should be able to take Tyrus' minutes rather easily.

  • I don't think it's a question of if he's athletic enough. He is. It's, is he willing to put the time in at practice and learn both positions? So far in the little time I have seen him on video.. I've gotten weird vibes about his attitude. Maybe he's just got a chip on his shoulder but from what I have seen of him so far has concerned me. I think it's more important for him to be a good locker room guy right off the bat. If not with few losses this could be a long season.

    I just hope he can be productive this season off the bench and it's really his defense that I worry about.

  • In reply to souleater7:

    Rumors and Opinions...

    We've read JJ had a poor work ethic. Then we read he was working hard at optional practices.

    And we know he's good break dancer.

    The grueling NBA schedule reveals weaknesses and strengths pretty quickly. We'll soon know how well James Johnson plays.

    My guess is that it takes a unique talent to be a martial arts expert and NBA draft pick. We'll know in a few months.

  • In reply to souleater7:

    I think that there is room in today's NBA game for a swing forward.

    Johnson has small forward skills in a slightly short power forwards body.

    The NBA seems to be going smaller at every position as time goes on, emphasizing althleticism over power and bulk. He would certainly be more than adequate at power forward in a small ball lineup, certainly better than Salmons or even Deng.

    I am not saying that he is as good as Carmelo, but from the little bit that we have seen of him, Anthony seems to be the closest comparison for Johnson. Anthony is considered a big physical small forward, who is not necessarily as good of a shooter as some of the pure small foward types.

    You have hit on my biggest worry about Johnson, that he does not appear to be a great athlete, despite his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim with either hand. Sort of reminds you of Salmons in that respect, but Johnson is clearly a more powerful player than Salmons.

    The guy is most definately a tweener, and there is nothing that the Bulls or anyone can do about that. We just have to hope that he develops to his full potential, and that as a coaching staff we find the best way to utilize those talents.

    If he doesn't develop into an NBA starter, he certainly seems to have a solid future as a top 6 or 7 man rotation player. I would expect him to be the primary backup for both Deng and Thomas this season, hopefully he can be effective enough to play 20-30 minutes a game.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    He might not be a great athlete with his speed, quickness, or jumping; but he seems to have excellent body control, and an innate understanding of his abilities. He's also rather graceful in his moves. I think that may be more important, considering the role we want him to play.

    TT's insane jumping ability is big for a shot blocker, and a guy who we desperately want to get to the rim more. We want JJ to be handling and picking apart the defense from the high post (or at least I do), so his tool set needs to be, and is different.

  • In reply to souleater7:

    I think we need to have reasonable expectations when it comes to JJ. He is a mid-first round pick in a weak draft and will be playing on a team made up of many high picks. The way I see it, unless a major injury occurs this season, Johnson is going to be a 3rd string SF and a 2nd string PF and should look to improve as much as possible in the position he is called to play more often which should be the PF.

    Sadly, I have read comments from both JJ and TT that they would rather play SF this season than PF and that is because they both know they will get pushed around down low by bigger, stronger, more experienced PFs like Garnett, Odom, Boozer, Lee, Wallace, and others. Unless these attitudes change and our boys start to toughen up (mentally and physically) I can't say I really expect JJ or TT to have outstanding years and I would expect Thomas to be put on the trading block at some point during the season.

  • In reply to souleater7:

    Doug what do you think about calling James Johnson a young Antoine Walker?

  • In reply to Basghetti80:

    I hope that he is a better teammate and person than that.

  • During Wade's NCAA tournament, various announcers called him an NBA tweener. It shows how much they really know.

  • I'm seeing more Boris Diaw in him, but that might just be because I've seen Diaw play a lot more. Obviously I'd like better decisions out of JJ, but watching him in summer league, there were times with the way he moved, I could have sworn I was watching Boris.

  • I was alluding to Walker as somewhat of a problem child in terms of attitude about the game as his profession. He certainly acted like a self centered jerk more often than not, at least as far as his public persona.

    Don't really know much about his private life, but not very impressed by what I saw and read about his behavior and general demeanor. So maybe he and Tyrus Thomas are more alike than we know, except Tyrus can't shoot at all.

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